Suzerainty And Cultural Primacy In China

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China 's direct relations with foreign lands had mainly been limited to less civilized peoples. Over the centuries the court had elaborated the tribute system, the traditional method of foreign relations. The Chinese graciously received and accorded the valuable privilege of trade to those who bore gifts to the Emperor and recognized China as the fount of civilization radiating in all directions--the Middle Kingdom surrounded by the ' 'Barbarians of the Four Corners." The great Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who gained the trust of the Literati, had also paid lip service to the Chinese “world view.” In bringing Western knowledge of cartography to Beijing in the 17th Century, Ricci had tactfully shown the Middle Kingdom at the center of his map of the world. Those who did not recognize Chinese suzerainty and cultural superiority were viewed with suspicion and hostility. Disputes with Western envoys over performing the kow-tow to the Emperor were not sterile quibbles over ceremony but a confrontation between the theory of the equality of nations, on the one hand, and the theory of China 's cultural primacy, on the other. It was also a clash between individualistic and hierarchical societies. That the Western nations conducted diplomacy through Foreign Ministries while the Chinese traditionally conducted it through the Board of Rites highlights this divergence of views. The Literati’s unwavering view of China as the fount of civilization psychologically affected most

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